November 30, 2006

"Ugly American" Needed in Postwar Iraq

by Donald G. Mashburn

Most Congressional Democrats have united in their opposition to the Iraq war, and to President George Bush in particular. True, most of them, like John Kerry, were for toppling Saddam Hussein, until they realized actual combat was taking place, and that they could exploit the bloody and ongoing insurgency for political gain.

These naive souls seem to have believed that all our troops had to do was to show up and Iraqis would run up the white flag. But rising resistance from terrorists who kill innocent civilians for the sake of terrorism, and the violent conflicts between the Sunnis and Shiites, have brought considerable uncertainty as to the length of the war and just what shape Iraq will be in after the prolonged conflict.

The bumbling, indecisive United Nations can be expected to be, well, bumbling and indecisive. The weak and inept UN won’t take any strong direct action, although it’s already maneuvering to get its fumble-prone hands on post-war plans for Iraq.

The bottom line is that if Iraqis are ever to see an end to the senseless violence from Islamic terrorists, it will be when they have a representative government, an infusion of American dollars, compassion and know-how, and comparable contributions from our British ally. France, Germany, Russia and their ilk won’t lift a hand, unless it’s to hamper recovery efforts.

So what will America’s role be? And does the Bush administration have the grit to stand against the bumbling UN, while contending with the yapping and heel-nipping jackals of the Democratic Left who put political advantage above the effort to combat terrorism?

Early on, we heard wails in French and German about “bullying” and “arrogance” by the United States. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about the “ugly American,” a term that has been increasingly misapplied to American activity in foreign lands.

The original Ugly American was a good guy, who tried to help the local people in Sarkhan, a fictitious country in Southeast Asia. In the 1954 book, “The Ugly American,” authors William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick wrote of the failures of career American diplomats, and how communists consistently outmaneuvered them during typhoons, crop failures and famines.

The local people did receive help from some foreigners, led by Homer Atkins, a hardworking engineer, whose “fingernails were black with grease,” and, “The palms of his hands were calloused.” Atkins was a homely, creased-face man, and some of the local people gave him an affectionate nickname that translated roughly to “the ugly American.”

The authors made the title deliberately ironic, since the “ugly” American was well liked, and effective in his efforts to help the locals, while the diplomatic representatives were not prepared to deal with local realities. Over time, the label “ugly American” got switched from the good guys, and was used to refer to Americans displaying haughty attitudes in foreign lands.

In the event all the Ugly Americans, civilian and military, help the Iraqis achieve some form of stable government, no one can predict what shape the country will be in. Iraq will not be a true democracy, probably not even a solid republic. For the simple reason that the Iraqi people, who knew only terror and brutality in Saddam’s tyrantdom, can’t function as a democracy with all the baggage of having Islamic extremists in leadership roles.

So the United Stated and Great Britain will have to play leading roles in rebuilding Iraq. But the United Nations, and Saddam’s favorite suppliers, France, Germany and Russia, may have their own ideas. It’ll be interesting to see how much the latter ante up to cover the cost of war, and in particular, the cost of peace.

Those who opposed removing Saddam Hussein from power should be told what role they play, subject to approval by the Coalition of the Willing. In the process, someone is bound to label the “doer,” the United States, the “Ugly American.” So be it.

President Bush’s detractors can show their own kind of ugly, shown by their early slogans, “No blood for oil,” and “Bush only wants Iraq’s oil.” But he should be aware that other good people have worn the tag of “Ugly American” and they have made a difference. Let’s hope the president’s advisors are more literate than his critics and will remind him that the original Ugly American was one of the good guys.

The Iraqis may or may not be capable of running a government by the people, for the people. But if they are, the “Ugly American” – in both military and civilian uniforms – should get most of the credit.